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Begin to Travel Hack in 5 Simple Steps

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.

Travel hacking can seem overwhelming to someone not in the know about how to earn and burn miles and points for award travel. There certainly are many complexities involved in the hobby, but getting started is not as difficult as it may seem.

You can begin to travel hack in 5 simple steps. Just start slowly and stay within your comfort zone.

1. Set a Travel Goal

This is an important first step because it’ll guide all of your next steps. Ask yourself where you’d like to go. You can fly all over the globe on award flights, so don’t limit yourself.

What type of traveler are you? Are you fine flying in economy class or do you only fly in business or first class? Are you traveling solo, as a couple, or with a family?

Knowing your travel style and who you’re traveling with, if anyone, helps you know how many miles it’ll take to reach your destination.

Tarifa Spain
Would you like to visit Spain?

2. Sign Up for Loyalty Programs

Airline and hotel loyalty programs are free to join. You’ll need to be a member in order to have an account you can transfer your flexible points into and to hold your point balances.

Sign up for all U.S airlines, like American, United, Southwest, Jet Blue, Delta, etc. You also need to join the loyalty programs for important airline alliance members, like British Airways, Singapore, Air France, Virgin Atlantic, ANA, and Aeroplan, etc, to allow you to maximize all the possible ways to redeem your miles and points for free and nearly free travel.

Aircraft at sunset

3Apply for a Travel Rewards Credit Card

Travel rewards credit cards offer lucrative welcome offers, which help you build your points balances quickly.

All miles and points are not created equally, though. When you’re starting out, it’s better to apply for credit cards within travel rewards programs that earn flexible points and have airline and hotel transfer partners, like Chase’s Ultimate Rewards or American Express’ Membership Rewards.

The points these programs earn are super flexible and can be used for award travel with a variety of airlines and hotels.

Compare this with co-branded cards, like a Delta credit card or Hilton Hilton card, which only let you use your miles on Delta and its airline partners or stay at a Hilton hotel.

If you’re just getting started, good first cards tend to be the Chase Sapphire Preferred and other Ultimate Rewards earning cards like the Ink Preferred, Ink Cash, Ink Unlimited, and Freedom cards.

Chase Credit Card Array

4. Meet the Minimum Spend

Once you have been approved for a travel rewards credit card, you’ll need to meet the minimum spending requirement to earn the sign-up bonus. This might worry you at first, but once you realize how many ways there are to get this done with your everyday spending, you’ll see how the money you already spend can work for you.

It’s incredibly important to be organized and keep track of the date when the minimum spend requirement needs to be met, as well as any other important information about earning points with your new credit card.

This is a simple way to organize your miles and points credit cards and earnings.
This is a simple way to organize your miles and points earnings.

5. Maximize Your Points Earnings

Travel rewards credit cards typically offer bonus spending categories. These categories may be fixed or could rotate quarterly. 

Learning which card to use in different situations is critical to maximizing your points-earning potential.

When making online purchases or dining out, be sure to also use shopping portals and dining programs to increase the number of miles and points you earn for every $1 spent.

Chase Freedom 2019 Calendar
A look at a past example (2019) of the Chase Freedom quarterly bonus categories.

You can easily begin to travel hack in 5 simple steps! In just a short amount of time, you’ll be well on your way to reaching your travel goals! 

Have you started to earn miles and points?

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26 thoughts on “Begin to Travel Hack in 5 Simple Steps”

  1. Hi Jackie! This is a fantastic introduction to travel hacking and point earning. I will always recommend the Chase Sapphire as a starting card for those looking to get more serious about earning points for travel. The minimum spend alone earned me a free flight between Thailand and Kenya!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Hi Alana! Thanks for your comments! So many people don’t realize that just 1 or 2 cards can reap huge rewards. Case in point your flight between Thailand and Kenya! 🙂

  2. I wish it was as easy to travel hack from Canada as it is from the USA! Awesome post though, lots of good information on how to get started. Rewards programs are definitely worthwhile. I got home from the states recently and discovered I had been rewarded a bunch of points for staying at Best Western… didn’t even know I was a member! Lol.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      So funny, Carly! But you are not alone! I know plenty of people who had no idea they had rewards points for a hotel or airline. There are still some good options for Canadians like the Starwood American Express. If you decide to start, though, make sure to keep yourself organized so you know what you have 😉

  3. Good points but for us setting the ‘minimum spend’ doesn’t work. Some countries are more expensive and you simply have to spend more, while some are cheaper and if you have a goal of e.g. $10 a day and you are travelling in a cheaper country you will end up spending this amount of money just because that’s your goal. For us the best strategy is to spend as little as possible and always trying to find the best deals, no matter how cheap or expensive the country is.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks for your comments Hitch-Hikers Handbook. So true, you never want to spend beyond your means just to meet a minimum spend. There are other ways like purchasing gift cards to use later or to liquidate and then pay off the balance on the card. This may not be easy in your situation, but it could work. Not everything is possible with points, though, and finding local deals is always a good idea!

  4. I keep a frequent traveler spreadsheet … I’d be lost without it. I also always check after my travel to be sure we were credited for our paid flights/hotels/rentals. It’s incredible how many times we haven’t been!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Such a good point, Cherri! It’s so important to check to make sure your rewards points have been credited. If you have a paper boarding pass, keep the stub to show you were on the flight. I started out with a spreadsheet, but it got very difficult to log in to all my accounts to update balances. I now use Award Wallet. It automatically tracks many (not all) of my airline, hotel, and credit card points.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      If you fly one airline a lot then, start with that loyalty program so it doesn’t feel overwhelming, Kimberly. It’s never too late to start!:)

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Travel hacking can seem so complicated, Paula, but the basics are simple to understand and can reap many benefits. Try using a spreadsheet to keep track of your miles and points or an automated tool like Award Wallet that will track most loyalty programs and credit card points automatically.

  5. Keeping track of the various programs and points is my problem. We tend to amass all our points on a single airline just to keep it easier. I just hope people won’t sign up for cards and spend all that money just to get the airline points. It can be a bad credit decision.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      My advice would be to use a spreadsheet or an automated tool like Award Wallet to track all your points earnings, Laura. I have to disagree about the bad credit decision part of your comment. Of course, if you’re going to overspend or not be responsible, then you’re absolutely correct. However, my credit score remains high because I pay off my bills each month. What also helps is the improvement of your credit utilization percentage. The more credit lines available to you, with only a small amount actually being used, will help lower that utilization percentage, which in turn will bring up your credit score.

  6. so many good advices here! I only use my miles card (and managed to fly for free once to my favourite Yerevan, Armenia)) but I can see there’re so many more opportunities to earn cheap flights! I need to do my research how this works in Poland but you definitely got me motivated!

  7. One thing I would add is that if there is anything wrong with the flight like it is late, they mess up your bags, or anything else, the airlines will gift you bonus miles. Great hacks to get started traveling – love racking up points.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Great tip, Kristi! Many people don’t realize they can be compensated with miles for inconveniences.

    2. Can you please tell me more about how to receive points as compensation for late flights? Almost every time I travel it seems we have a flight delay!

    3. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks for reading, Mike. When your flight is delayed, it’s worth it to call and/or voice a complaint with the airline. When I’ve had this happen, I’ve sometimes been offered points and sometimes I’ve been given a voucher with a specific value (i.e. $200). It’s not always points. Good luck!

  8. Great list! I liked the tip about signing up for other airlines that are part of the alliance/group. A lot of companies can partner with another airline and your flight may actually be on one of their flights, not your original carrier. Great way to earn more miles!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      It’s also good to check with particular airline alliances because it may not always be the best return for your miles to credit them to a domestic airline, Joe. In some cases, you may get more for your miles by accruing with a partner like Air Canada, rather than United.

  9. It took me a long time to sign up to any loyalty programs as I was always going for the cheapest airfare and didn’t really care which airline I chose. Now, however, that we’re a family of 5 we are all about using miles to travel!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      I used to do the exact same thing, Katja! I was always looking for the cheapest airfare. But, when you want to travel a lot like I do, points are big part of what’s enabling me to do that.

  10. I’ve never been into “point(s) earning” as I don’t find it applicable in my travels. Is it worth it? I receive a lot of e-mails and offers about this but never tried any. Just want to know how does this work for the others.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      It is so worth it, Trisha! The money I have not spent flying to places like Patagonia, Thailand, several European countries, Central America, and the Caribbean is in the tens of thousands of dollars. I would start with signing up for airline and hotel loyalty programs to make sure you get credit for all paid flights. In the long run though, you need to make your money work for you by having a rewards credit card and making use of bonus categories to get a return on every dollar you can.

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